10 Amazing Projects Funded by IMLS

I wrote an article recently about how Trump is coming after libraries and I wasn’t joking.

I wrote an article recently about how Trump is coming after libraries and I wasn’t joking. In Trump’s FY2020 proposed budget, his administration has called for the elimination of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)! This misguided move is obviously bad for libraries because IMLS is the independent government agency that transfers the funds made available through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) — the only Federal funding that is exclusively for libraries — to libraries all around the country!

If we lose the IMLS, libraries will lose the ability to do some truly meaningful work. Below are 10 examples of important initiatives that were funded through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS):

Imagine if suddenly went blind or developed a condition that made it difficult for you to turn the pages of a magazine. Would you be forced to stop reading? Not if you were in South Carolina! Thanks, in part, to IMLS funding, you would have access to Talking Book Services (TBS), a service which “…provides informational and recreational reading materials in accessible formats for free to qualified users.” As if providing reading resources for it’s patrons isn’t enough, TBS also has an art gallery where they recently displayed artwork from several blind or visually-impaired students!

Note that IMLS funds similar programs for special populations across the country. Examples below…

Like many projects IMLS supports, Washington Rural Heritage gives the world the opportunity to explore the previously inaccessible history of Washington State through maps, digitized photos, historical documents, and more! This is a very useful resource for many, from academics doing deep historical work to casual genealogists researching family history. Best of all, this is not just a dead collection of objects, contributors to Washington Rural Heritage place its collections in context.

Learning new things from Washington Rural Heritage is very easy since it’s impossible not to stumble upon a fascinating collection. My own exploration led to this example: “The Canoe Journeys ~ A Nisqually Perspective documents the Nisqually Tribe’s participation in an annual event celebrated by tribes of the Pacific Northwest from 1989 though the present day…” and [From the “About” Page]: “The Nisqually Tribe has participated since 1994, and has used the Canoe Journeys to strengthen its culture, its community, and its families. Historical cultural practices — from carving techniques to gifting ceremonies, cedar weaving to regalia making — have been revived and rediscovered, while songs have resurfaced to be shared at Journey’s end. The Tribe’s pride of place and history are once again enriching the lives of young and old alike. The Nisqually Canoe family has learned and taught many of the older skills, and these practices are once again taken up by community members.”

In 2012, the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library System (CLPL) of Mississippi received funds from IMLS to establish a center dedicated to serving youth on the Autism Spectrum. According to the Spring 2016 On The Same Page newsletter of the Mississippi Library Commission, the Autism Resource Center, “The ARC contains print resources and therapy tools that parents, caregivers, and educators can take home to try with their child as well as an in-house play area that contains developmentally appropriate toys including a LEGO table, a chalk walk, a magnetic letter board, a tactile wall, a kitchen and grocery store for social skills, and an auditory station. The area also has three AWE After School Edge learning stations as well as two iPads that contain Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) appropriate apps.” And CLPL’s Autism Resource Center isn’t the only IMLS-funded resource for library patrons on the Autism Spectrum, two more (of the many) examples are Autism Resource Center (Lancaster (PA) Public Library), and Project PALS.

War Ink is one of the most interesting and powerful projects that, I’m proud to say, was originated in part by libraries and librarians (thanks, Contra Costa Public Library) and funded by IMLS. A multi-media online exhibit, War Ink collects and explores veteran’s stories with tattoos as a launching point. From the About page:

“Libraries have a duty to provide resources to all citizens, but place special emphasis on serving our returning veterans — a segment of our community that can be overlooked. Libraries also collect the stories that tell us who we are as a society. The experiences of combat veterans returning home have serious cultural significance. They need to be told.

In contemplating this need, the project creators recognized that the striking visual medium of tattoo art would be the ideal entry point to exploring veterans’ experiences. The tattoos document experiences, memorialize fallen comrades, and express emotional response. They capture the attention, making viewers want to learn more and listen longer.”

For people who see libraries as quiet, dusty, indoor places, may I introduce you to Homegrown Gwinnett, an IMLS-funded community gardening initiative that established aeroponic garden towers at 15 branches across the Gwinnett County in Georgia. The noteworthy aspects of this project are many; beyond the “cool” factor of having edible greenery around the library, the garden towers are also triggers for food and science-related library programs, hands-on learning for community members, and organized action around important issues like food insecurity.

While library gardens are not, in themselves, a new concept, the innovative applications that Gwinnett County Public Library brought to the table (no pun intended) here are worth pointing out as a prime example of what IMLS funding can help create.

Not all IMLS-funded library endeavors are direct-service projects, some, like SPELL (created by the Colorado State Library), are research and training initiatives that assist librarians in serving targeted populations. With SPELL, a group of librarians, experts, and community partners conducted research on addressing literacy rates among low-income populations in their area and created a blueprint. But they did not stop there — the next phase of the project was to put their research into action. Through a symposium, online videos, a free and accessible toolkit, and direct on-the-ground training and mentoring, SPELL helped participating libraries generate strategies for boosting early literacy that were specific to the needs of each locality.

My initial response in reading about SPELL was, “Okay, but so what? What did this research and training actually accomplish?” Then I got to the Case Study Narratives and was awed. I read through the report of each of the participants and became more and more impressed by their work. For example, here’s a quote about the impact of the Montrose Regional Library District (MRLD) on one father and daughter related to new bookmobile stop outside of her school during a strategically-chosen time:

“I had a dad make a point of telling me how much he appreciates our visit. He is a single father working two jobs and the library hours aren’t conducive to his work schedule — as a result he hasn’t been able to bring his little girl to the library. He gets to pick her up from school during his lunch break and it is the perfect time for them to check out books.”

Preservation of priceless and irreplaceable collections during disasters and emergency situations is something most members of the public never consider. However, thanks to an IMLS-funded grant Rhode Island’s Office of Information & Library Services (OLIS), “… has offered disaster preparedness and cultural preservation support to a range of institutions, including libraries, museums, archives, and historical societies.” (IMLS blog).

Through trainings and workshops, OLIS has offered cultural institutions including libraries the steps to take beyond an annual emergency plan in protecting their valuable resources. Thanks to this training, they will be prepared to care for their collections regardless of whether they encounter an HVAC system failure or a full-out flood.

Combining a STEAM education focus, narrative, and performance, Librarian Amy Greil of the Plainville Public Library took IMLS funding through a 2014 Full STEAM Ahead sub-grant and turned it into the “Kingdom of Why”, a participatory library program that has at its core the story of the characters Prince Ava and Oliver the Squire and original music created by Ms. Greil. Here’s a general outline of a session of the multi-session “Kingdom of Why” from the IMLS Blog:

“Each forty-five minute Saturday session revolves around an original fairytale that comes to life with puppets, storyboards, and other props. Children and their guardians, whose supervision and participation are required for the program, take part in the telling of each tale by building castles, making props, and acting out dialogue. Together, the group arrives at each story’s conflict, a scientific question that they must help solve for Princess Ava. Once the question is posed, participants visit different stations where they explore related scientific concepts. After sufficient time for play, the group reconvenes and children present what they’ve learned in order to resolve the story’s conflict.

The Kingdom of Why interactively explores concepts including light and color, symmetry, patterns and sorting, wind, ramps, levels, balance, and building. During the first story, for example, Princess Ava and Oliver the Squire happen upon a group of pixies during a walk in the woods. The pixies are in crisis because they’ve been invited to the rainbow ball, but cannot remember the colors of the rainbow. They must mix dyes to create its colors. Faced with this predicament, Kingdom of Why participants visit stations where they mix paints, play with prisms, and explore color palettes. Ultimately, the children present what they’ve learned to aid in the pixie’s quest.”

Oh, to be a kid again and have the chance to participate in such a wonderful program!

Responding to an influx of new residents and the clear benefit of social connections to general well-being, in 2017, the Redwood City Library used IMLS funds to organize a series of experiences for neighbors new and old called “Meet Your Neighbors”. Aside from mailing new residents a welcome kit full of goodies (including the most important card they could have), the Library set up programs that gave patrons an opportunity to interact with various swaths of the community. Events like “Meet Your Chefs,” “Meet Your City Advocates,” and “Meet Your Librarians,” in addition to “Speed Meet Your Neighbors” allowed new residents to make friends and discover Redwood City’s movers and shakers.

“Meet Your Neighbors” is an outstanding case of a library establishing itself as an agora where people of all stripes can mix and grow together— a vibrant, living place.

Above, I mentioned the Canoe Journeys collection that is part of the Washington Rural Heritage project, but the IMLS serves a more vital role in sustaining Native American libraries than funding digitization and accessibility of individual collections. Indeed, the very existence of hundreds of tribal libraries depends on federal funding administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. If funding to IMLS is cut off, it means that hundreds of tribal libraries across the country will face closure. This alone should be enough to encourage everyone reading this to contact their senators and representatives and tell them to support IMLS.

While these projects, and support of tribal libraries, is an impressive accomplishment for the IMLS. These ten examples are not even 1% of the, literally, THOUSANDS of similar projects that are funded through the Institute of Museum and Library Services every single year. Above, I highlighted one-time and ongoing initiatives serving:

  • The blind and visually-impaired
  • Those interested in exploring and preserving the heritage of Washington State
  • Youth on the Autism Spectrum
  • Veterans and their families
  • Folks of all ages, but particularly teens, of Gwinnett County, Georgia
  • Low-income youth in Colorado
  • Cultural institutions in Rhode Island
  • Young learners in Plainville, Massachusetts
  • and new residents of Redwood City, California

These are just a tiny fraction of people who are served by IMLS funding. Please go to saveimls.org and help maintain services to people like you all over the United States. Do it for your own benefit, and because it is the right thing to do.


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